Utilizing [18F]-AV-1451 tau positron emission tomography (PET) as an Alzheimer disease (AD) biomarker will require identification of brain regions that are most important in detecting elevated tau pathology in preclinical AD. Here, we utilized an unsupervised learning, data-driven approach to identify brain regions whose tau PET is most informative in discriminating low and high levels of [18F]-AV-1451 binding. 84 cognitively normal participants who had undergone AV-1451 PET imaging were used in a sparse k-means clustering with resampling analysis to identify the regions most informative in dividing a cognitively normal population into high tau and low tau groups. The highest-weighted FreeSurfer regions of interest (ROIs) separating these groups were the entorhinal cortex, amygdala, lateral occipital cortex, and inferior temporal cortex, and an average SUVR in these four ROIs was used as a summary metric for AV-1451 uptake. We propose an AV-1451 SUVR cut-off of 1.25 to define high tau as described by imaging. This spatial distribution of tau PET is a more widespread pattern than that predicted by pathological staging schemes. Our data-derived metric was validated first in this cognitively normal cohort by correlating with early measures of cognitive dysfunction, and with disease progression as measured by β-amyloid PET imaging. We additionally validated this summary metric in a cohort of 13 Alzheimer disease patients, and showed that this measure correlates with cognitive dysfunction and β-amyloid PET imaging in a diseased population.